The Winona City Planning Commission and several area citizens clashed for a second time Monday evening during a vocal. informal roundtable discussion of the final draft of city's study of the frac sand industry during a one-year moratorium on new operations.
A handful of attendees said the commission has not adequately addressed issues related to traffic and environmental repercussions, and is not taking into consideration how the industry could affect the area in the future.
“Why can’t we be more forward-thinking and try to take into account some of the contingencies down the road, because I don’t think anybody is looking at that,” Winona resident Steve Schild asked. “If Winona County is going to be the epicenter of this industry, let’s take into consideration all the factors.”
Commission chairman Craig Porter replied that the study has done exactly that. “Those questions and concerns have all been heard, addressed, and answered,” he said.
Citizens also expressed concerns about the lack of proper air monitoring. Currently, the final draft recommends sand washing and processing facilities test for proper sand moisture levels in order to prevent sand and harmful particulates from getting into the air. However, some have not accepted that recommendation, saying it is not enough, and have asked for more research.
Assistant City Planner Carlos Espinosa said he recently spoke with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about obtaining an air monitor to see if that is a route the city wants to take in the future.
“The MPCA has a network of air monitors that go from location to location, and they are all over the state of Minnesota,” Espinosa explained. He detailed the air monitors already in place in Duluth and Virginia, Minnesota, in what he called the heart of Northern Minnesota mining. “All of the air quality numbers fall well below federal thresholds for hazardous air. They are meeting all the standards.”
Porter added that the commission has facilitated dialogue with government agencies throughout the study period and said that because the city has been given the green light for frac mining businesses, it should do so.
“Stop trying to stop a business in the City of Winona,” commissioner Dale Boettcher said. “It’s a business. It will succeed or it will fail. I’m pro-business and if the situation is not in your best interests, we’ll act accordingly. But as of right now, we have been doing the job with your best interests in mind.”
The commission will take a last look at the draft on November 26, before sending it to the City Council, which could give a final approval of the recommendations in early December. If the council decides to forego adopting the recommendations, the frac sand industry in Winona will rely on the regulations provided in the language of current CUPs.